In addiction recovery, specifically in 12-step programs, mentoring (they use the word sponsorship, but it’s the same thing) is a key component to staying clean. Within the “civilian” population, as addicts refer to those who are not addicts, most people who have achieved any degree of financial success, climbed the corporate ladder and found even a modicum of happiness in their chosen careers will cite at least one person in their life who served in the role of mentor. Mentors (a good one) can open doors, provide insights, gently propel you down the right path when you’ve gone astray. Good mentors mentor because they understand the joy of giving, of being generous to those just starting out, of helping another who may be struggling, of reaching out a hand in support to someone less fortunate and expect nothing in return. They understand the joy of giving is how they also receive. The founders of AA understood that no one understands another alcoholic as well as an alcoholic and to stay sober, one must “be of service.”
On a personal note (and this blog seems to have fallen off the precipice of vague, broad sweeping generalities and is now firmly rooted in personal, blatant, unabashed honesty) I became intimately familiar with mentoring when I most needed one. I was in my thirties, I was searching for a way out of the hole I’d dug myself (click ‘here‘ and ‘here‘ for more on that) and I was told, “find someone who has what you want and ask them to sponsor you.” It was also advised that I find a female to avoid any “conflict.” So I promptly approached a man in his 60’s, who worked a blue collar job. A big, craggy guy with more than two decades of sobriety under his belt and almost as many from an eating disorder. He had “lost the desire to eat compulsively” and since that was akin to finding the holy grail, as far as I was concerned, he fit the criteria for “having what I wanted.” When I asked him, he looked a bit taken aback, but graciously accepted and so began one of the most important relationships I had in those early years as I struggled to emerge from my various addictions and find my way in the world. That man helped me. He had no degree or training, by the world’s standards of “success” he certainly fell short, but he had a lifetime of personal experience to impart. He was as unlike me as one human being could be from another, except for one – he knew what it was to struggle with an addiction and come out the other side. He was kind, compassionate, patient and generous, and with his guidance I felt the joy of connecting with another human being who knew intimately what I was going through, while trusting that if I followed his lead, I had a chance of coming out the other side. I have since had the privilege of mentoring a great many others over the years.
We all need mentors. (It is equally crucial we also become mentors.) People we can turn to who have been where we currently find ourselves. People who can guide us, whether it’s in our relationships, our careers or just in living life more fully. Mentorship can mean a great many things to different people, but finding someone who “has what you want” is a pretty good starting point. Which brings me to autism and my dream for my daughter, Emma. I would love to think she might find a few Autistic adults to mentor her. Autistic adults who might help her as she grows older, who want to take her under their wing and be a presence in her life. An adult who is not her parent. Come to think of it, I want this for both my children. I don’t know how to orchestrate that. But it’s something I think about a great deal.
Yesterday’s post, Wretches and Jabberers – Defying Labels was inspired by some wonderful comments from the day before. One commenter, (Lauri who very generously agreed to let me share one of the video clips she sent me, you can see the others ‘here‘ ) told me about her son, H. whose life was transformed when he met his idols, Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher (the stars of Wretches and Jabberers.) She described how they spent a long evening communicating with one another. She wrote how Larry and Tracy “have continued to nurture, support and mentor H in ways that are really magical.” Lauri wrote – “Here is a video Henry and I made last summer, it shows the magical ( I know that may sound trite, but it really was/is magical) connection he has with his mentors and friends Tracy and Larry.”
For my daughter I want an Autistic Adult with whom she might form a meaningful relationship with. Ultimately Emma must choose such people for herself, I can only offer situations that might encourage this. What they do or don’t do for a living is not something I care about. I am much more interested in who they are as human beings. The people I am drawn to have a couple of things in common. Each of them has struggled, experienced hardship, worked through fear, taken risks, and maintained a sense of humor. That’s the criteria for any mentor I am interested in, however Emma’s criteria may be different. To all who have served as mentors and role models in my life and there are many, I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you.
One such role model, Amy Sequenzia, (I have written about Amy before, a non-speaking Autistic adult, self advocate, poet and writes often at Ollibean) has agreed to an interview with me. I know many of you may have questions for her and she has agreed to answer as many as she can. So if you want to ask Amy something, please list your questions in the comments section of this post and I’ll make sure she receives them. Thank you Amy for agreeing to do this!
Emma – 2008